A court in Iran has heard an appeal from Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American journalist who has been sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of spying for the United States.
Three judges reportedly presided over the hearing, which is attended by the 32-year-old Roxana Saberi and her lawyers. The hearing was not open to the public and Saberi’s father, Reza Saberi, was barred from attending.
Reports say Saberi entered the court with a smile, although she looked thin under her black chador after her two-week hunger strike in protest at her sentence.
A friend of the Saberi family, Payam Mohebi, who had gone to the court but was not allowed inside, told Radio Farda that Saberi seemed to be in good spirits. “Two guards were accompanying her. We were not able to talk to her at all, we were not allowed to,” Mohebi said. “But she appeared well.”
One of Saberi's two lawyers, Abdolsamad Khoramshahi, told reporters after the proceedings that the appeal court is expected to issue its verdict "this week...within days.” “The court session was held under good conditions and my colleague and I...were given adequate time to defend our client. I am hopeful and optimistic,” Khoramshahi said.
Khoramshahi had expressed hope before the hearing that Saberi’s sentence would be “substantially” reduced.
On May 9, a judiciary spokesman said that the verdict will be “fair” and based on Iranian law, but he did not say when the verdict will be delivered.
Saberi, a dual Iranian-American citizen whose father is Iranian and mother is Japanese, had been freelancing for American National Public Radio and several other Western media outlets in Iran. She was detained in January for allegedly buying alcohol, an illegal act in the Islamic Republic. Authorities later said that her press accreditation had expired and finally accused her of spying for the United States, sentencing her in April to an eight-year prison term.
No evidence has been so far made public in the case.
Saberi grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, and moved to Iran six years ago. She was reportedly working on a book about the culture and people of Iran.
The U.S. government and international rights groups have dismissed the charges against Saberi as baseless, and are calling for her release.
Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has said her conviction was a warning to foreign journalists working in Iran ahead of the June presidential election.
Some observers see the Saberi case as a move by Iranian hardliners to sabotage U.S. President Barack Obama’s efforts to reach out to Iran. In March, Obama called for a new beginning in relations between Iran and the United States.
Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told RFE/RL that the case complicates those efforts.
“The case has given rise to the suspicion in the United States that what Iran is doing is trying to blackmail the U.S. through holding Iranian-Americans hostage until the Americans make concessions on one front or another, such as letting go some of the Iranian nationals who have been arrested in Iraq,” Clawson said.
Saberi is not the only Iranian-American to face security charges in Iran in recent years. In 2007, two scholars and a businessman with dual citizenship were detained in Iran for several months before being freed and allowed to leave the country.
Radio Farda broadcaster Mohammad Zarghami contributed to this report